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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.-Russia spy dispute

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

"We will not expel anyone," Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

"Further steps toward the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out," he said.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama's actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama's executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration "a group of embittered and dim witted foreign policy losers."

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks and that is was possible to impose many sanctions.

"When you attack a country, it's an act of war," McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel "1+1" while on a visit to Kiev.

"And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy." added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.

A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.

But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. "If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes."

Russia was given until noon on Friday to vacate both premises. Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare.

 

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Trump Claims He’ll Rebuild the Inner Cities, but How Committed Is He?

President-elect Donald Trump, in the first version of his 100-day action plan to make America great again, promised to spend $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years. He said that the plan would involve leveraging public-private partnerships and private investments through tax incentives, adding that the program would be revenue-neutral.

A few days later in Charlotte, N.C., Trump gave a speech proposing an urban-renewal agenda for the nation’s inner cities, calling it a “new deal for black America.”

“African Americans have sacrificed so much for this nation. … Yet, too many African Americans have been left behind,” Trump said, citing a plan that involves everything from school choice and public safety to financial reforms, tax holidays and tax incentives aimed at making it easier for black businesses to get credit. He told the invitation-only crowd, which was about a quarter African American, that inner cities would be a major beneficiary of the trillion-dollar infrastructure investment.

“I will further empower cities and states to seek a federal disaster delegation for blighted communities in order to initiate the rebuilding of vital infrastructure, the demolition of abandoned properties and the increased presence of law enforcement,” Trump said.

At the time, Democratic North Carolina state Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte dismissed the speech as “false promises.”

“If he was serious,” Ford told the Charlotte Observer, “his organizations and the businesses he owns would reflect those values, and African Americans who’ve worked for him over the years would be coming out of the woodwork singing his praises.”

But there are questions not only about the president-elect’s infrastructure plan itself but also about how strongly he is committed to it. The day after Trump’s Charlotte speech, two of his top advisers, Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross, offered a detailed plan (pdf) that some critics say is more about rewarding private-equity investors than rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. The plan notes that financing $1 trillion would involve an equity assessment of $167 billion and that the government would provide a tax credit equal to 82 percent of the equity amount in order to “encourage investors to commit such large amounts, and to reduce the cost of the financing.”

Ronald Klain, a former assistant to President Barack Obama who oversaw the team implementing the American Recovery and Renewal Act from 2009 to 2011, told the Washington Post that the plan is a “trap.” But R. Glenn Hubbard, dean of the Columbia Business School and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush, told the New York Times that a substantial federal infrastructure-spending program could work if there is a long-term commitment and if it is a partnership paid for by federal, state, local and private funds, with the mix depending on the project.

Trump didn’t mention his $1 trillion infrastructure plan in the second version of his 100-day plan, released last month. In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said that infrastructure would not be the core of his first few years in office, but it would be “an important factor.”

“I think I am doing things that are more important than infrastructure, but infrastructure is still a part of it, and we’re talking about a very large-scale infrastructure bill,” Trump said, “and that’s not a very Republican thing—I didn’t even know that.”

Asked by the Times whether House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be reluctant to spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, Trump replied: “Let’s see if I get it done. Right now they’re in love with me. OK?”

But McConnell said earlier this month that he wants to “avoid a trillion-dollar stimulus,” and Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has said that the new administration will be focusing on issues including health care and rewriting tax laws. That is causing concern among trade associations, lobbyists and organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“We’re worried,” says Brian Turmail, spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, which represents more than 26,000 construction companies. “Are we hearing signs that people just don’t know what the plan is? Or signs that people don’t want any kind of plan? We don’t know the answer.”

Still, some Democratic lawmakers, including incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have supported the president-elect’s interest in spending on infrastructure. Also, Trump is moving to create an infrastructure task force.

Although a spokesman for House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Schuster (R-Pa.) told The Hill that it is too early to discuss the substance and timing of a bill, the committee does plan to work with the Trump administration “in exploring options that make smart, fiscally responsible investments and help ensure America has a 21st-century infrastructure.”

All this might mean is that it could be quite some time before the sounds of construction roar through the nation’s African-American communities or in America’s inner cities.

 

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Amazing Grace

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Eight years ago, toward the end of the 2008 presidential campaign, Michelle Obama asked me, “Klein, are you going to write a book like Primary Colors about us?” referring to my satirical novel about the 1992 campaign. I spluttered a bit; the thought had never occurred to me. Her husband started to laugh. “Klein can’t write a book like that about us,” he said. “We’re too boring.”

That was nonsense, of course. The first African-American President of the United States was never going to be boring. But Obama was right too. There would be little melodrama and absolutely no hint of scandal during his time in office. The conservative fever swamps would be no less pustulent than they were during the Clinton presidency–indeed, the level of race-based hatemongering was frightening–but somehow the Obamas never let it get to them. They radiated a sense of militant normality, a mother-knows-best family on the world’s brightest stage. The First Lady let the White House staff know that Sasha and Malia would make their own beds. The President went up to the residence for family dinner most nights. The First Lady planted a vegetable garden. She gave her husband grief when he got too full of himself.

When the President received the Nobel Peace Prize, he was asked to sign his name and leave a brief message in the same book that previous recipients, like Albert Schweitzer and Martin Luther King Jr., had signed. Obama sat before the book and, in his precise, architectural left-handed script, began to write and write … and write. Finally, Michelle intervened: “Honey, are you writing a book?”

Their physical, emotional and intellectual grace was daunting. They never lost their cool in public. He controlled a supersharp sense of irony; he was never harsh. He made plenty of mistakes, as all Presidents do. He declared a “red line” in Syria and did nothing when it was crossed. He did not pretend to like the social ceremonies of politics; he despised flattery. I once asked a top aide why the President didn’t invite his opponents over to the White House for a drink or a movie more often and was told, “He believes they’d see right through it.” True enough, but there isn’t a soul in Washington who isn’t thrilled by an invitation to the White House.

The impact of the Obamas on American culture was subtle but substantial. In the Klein household these days, Dad is reading a book (Sapiens, by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari) that the President included in his list of 10 essential books, while the kids are watching the First Lady’s epic Carpool Karaoke and the whole family dances together to the President’s daytime playlist. The Obamas demonstrated that you can get down without losing your dignity. Their tastes were an eclectic combination of high and low: her sophisticated and never-errant fashion sense; his unabashed love of ESPN and late-adopted passion for golf.

He will be remembered for his eulogies, the terrible skein of laments over the bodies of American citizens murdered. He could convey a cathartic sadness, and the potential for uplift, in the face of tragedy. His most perfect moment came at the funeral of the Charleston, S.C., churchgoers who had been killed by a sick white man. The families of the dead had already forgiven the shooter–a stupendous act, but not uncommon in the black church and the African-American experience. How to respond to that? Words couldn’t cover it … so he sang “Amazing Grace,” a moment of bravado, humility and passion entwined.

Boring? Not for a moment. Thank you, Mr. President and First Lady, for leading us so elegantly.

 

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Trump on Putin's criticism of Hillary Clinton and Democrats: 'So true!'

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President-elect Donald Trump tweeted his agreement with Vladimir Putin on Friday evening, after the Russian president said top Democrats were humiliating themselves by blaming their election loss on alleged Russian hacking. "Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: 'In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.' So true!" Trump tweeted.

Putin had criticized Clinton and the Democrats at a press conference on Friday, claiming that the allegations of Russian interference during the election was an "affront to their own dignity."

"They are losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame," Putin said. "It is important to know how to lose gracefully."

It wasn't the first time on Friday that Trump gushed over remarks made by Putin. Earlier, Trump released a statement saying he received a "very nice letter" from the Russian president, adding that Putin's "thoughts are so correct."

The letter, dated Dec. 15, offered Putin's "warmest Christmas and New Year greetings" and stressed the importance of US-Russia relations in "ensuring stability and security of the modern world."

Putin continued: "I hope that after you assume the position of the president of the United States of America we will be able — by acting in a constructive and pragmatic manner — to take real steps to restore the framework of bilateral cooperation in different areas as well as bring out level of collaboration on the international scene to a qualitatively new level."

 

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A Requiem For Susie Jackson, The Black Woman Shot 11 Times By Dylann Roof

Walter Jackson holds a photo of his mother, Susie, one of the nine people killed in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

We should never forget Miss Susie, or any of our persevering Church Mothers.

Miss Susie,

You were 87 years old when Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot you 11 times. Your aged body took more bullets than any of the other eight churchgoers whose lives were also cut short by an evil white supremacist on June 17, 2015.  

That one piece of information reminded me of the violence historically inflicted upon black women by white men and the way we tend to bear so much pain, sometimes just because we’re black women at Bible study on the wrong night.

I don’t know if you heard him say this, but Roof justified his misdeeds by telling your nephew, “You are raping our women and taking over the world.” He upheld white women’s bodies as superior to justify your slaughter.

Later Roof would laugh as he confessed to shooting you and the others. “Somebody had to do it,” Roof told police officers, adding that “black people are killing white people every day .... What I did is so minuscule compared to what they do to white people every day.” 

“Our people are superior,” he said. “That’s just the fact.”

Unlike many who lynched black people during Jim Crow, Roof refused to look at crime scene photos of you during his trial. He couldn’t even stomach what he had done to you and your loved ones.

Miss Susie, it’s as though Jim Crow found a way to catch up to you even though your black first lady strolls the halls of a home built by her ancestors but not meant for their descendants.

I didn’t know you, but you remind me of my great-grandmother. She, like you, was a God-fearing, church-loving woman, and she couldn’t really say “no” to anything herself. Your fluffy gray curls were similar to hers, and her skin was a beautiful dark brown-red like yours. My great-grandmother and you were both Church Mothers, older women who have demonstrated their strong faith and now help guide the rest of the congregation down the right path.

I imagine you remind a lot of black people of their grandmothers, these larger-than-life women who take on everyone’s pain and somehow manage to bring us so much joy.

That’s one reason why it hurt so damn bad when you were listed as a victim in the church massacre. When it was revealed that that white supremacist pumped 11 shots into you, I remembered how I felt on June 17, 2015. I relived that anger, that pain and that feeling of being so small in the face of such audacious hatred.

It’s a feeling I’ll never forget, just like I’ll never forget you, Miss Susie ― or any of the black women like I imagine you were.

Sincerely, 

A black kid still reeling from the fact that you could have been my grandmother.

 

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